The local collective Sun Salon will be playing at the Fisher Performance Hall in the Granoff Music Center on Friday at 9 p.m. Sun Salon performs and records a unique combination of rapped poems accompanied by improvised jazz, and they’ve just released their first album, “Deep Space” (2023).
On Oct. 17, the Daily spoke with Abraham “Abe” Brownell, the coordinator of the collective. In addition to organizing the group, Abe writes and performs poetry and plays lap steel guitar and mandolin. He also works at Tufts as the staff assistant in the Granoff main office.
Upon hearing Abe’s backstory, one might be surprised he became a professional musician.
“In college, I wasn’t a music major. I took a few courses here and there in composition, but primarily, my academics were in philosophy,” Brownell explained. “I had this very small … not quite a band, but some people that I would record over some track I had made. And that was plenty of fun.”
Although he continued to dabble in music throughout college, his real passion emerged shortly after graduation when he recorded improvised sessions during quarantine.
“[During the] strict quarantine period, I was living at my parents’ place, and they have a really nice dining room for acoustics … so I was like, I have the mics. I have musicians who are interested, … I knew I liked improvising, … what if we just had a day where we didn’t have a plan and we just kind of went?”
As much as Brownell enjoyed those initial recordings, he still thought there was something missing. He found that missing piece while talking about music with some local rappers who persuaded him to try out their art. Since he already wrote poetry, rap turned out to be a natural fit for him. Finally, Brownell had the inspiration to combine his newfound rap ability with the improvised music he was already making.
“There was kind of a set of ingredients. … I write poetry already, I write lyrics and I know how to stay to a beat and maintain a pulse with whatever sounds I’m making. So why not just … collide the two? That’s kind of the basic concept of what the collective does. That’s what the album features,” Brownell said. “The cornerstone of [Sun Salon] is freely improvised instrumentals and delivery of poetry in a way that is very rhythmically informed.”
Since their formation, various combinations of Sun Salon members have been meeting regularly to record their music. Brownell has several projects that have not yet been released, some with different combinations of instruments and others with more electronic components.
“One project I’m working on … [uses] multiple loopers in parallel. And the length of the loop is based on the Fibonacci series. So they stagger in this really elegant way, which creates this shifting texture,” Brownell said, describing the production of one particularly technical piece. “Obviously if you want clean four-bar phrases, it won’t do that because it’s three, five and eight-bar phrases all looping asynchronously. But if you control those loopers and how much they’re retaining prior iterations and so forth, you can create this really nice base texture.”
Despite having majored in philosophy, Brownell avoids overtly including it in his poetry; however, he still considers philosophy in his writing and recording.
“That’s a very easy way to lose people, and rightfully so, if I just start talking about Merleau-Ponty directly,” he mused. “[But] for me, it feels necessary to have my meta aesthetic ducks in a row … to know what the project of that aesthetic package and process is trying to achieve.”
In other words, Brownell is focused on building connection and understanding with his audience.
“The beauty of this music is [that] … all of a sudden, there’s this empathic capacity that the audience has that they didn’t really have before,” Brownell explained. “You live, and you have these aesthetic tools and you use the tools to make an aesthetic thing … so that when it hits the audience, they have some sense of what that [experience] was like. That’s what I’m trying to do.”
Ahead of the performance on Friday, Brownell hopes his audience will be able to “fall into” Sun Salon’s music. Audience members can expect a full sound, a unique combination of musical genres and a hypnotic experience.
“That process [of deep listening] will just really get you immersed and entranced … It’s super intense. And my hope is that people will be able to partake in that.”